“I don’t think you want to become that man.”- The Temptation of Violence

DOCTOR: We can end this right now. We could save everyone right now.
AMY: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
DOCTOR: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
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In my introduction to preaching class (I am in the final year of the Masters of divinity program) the instructor asserted that no matter how many times a pastor has preached on a specific biblical text he/she should be able to craft a different sermon each time that takes into account their current context. In a similar vein, I decided to write a blog post on the above quote from the episode, A Town Called Mercy.I know have written on the episodes and the aforementioned quotes and to be honest I will be touching on a recurring theme on this blog which seems to be a variation of the biblical mandate “to love your enemies” (which has turned into an over-used cliché that masks the difficulty of such a task) and to follow Christ in trying to demonstrate a way of living that runs counter to the status quo of daily life.

In A Town Called Mercy the Doctor struggles with his own inner demons based on his decision to destroy galifrey (this is a pre-The Day of the Doctor episode) and the numerous instances where he has tried to save lives and failed. Yet in addition to his struggles with his own guilt, there is something pure, raw and relatable about his anger and his belief that killing Jex would not make Jex pay for his past actions but would also protect the town from the Gunslinger seeking to bring Jex to justice (or rather what the Gunslinger considers to be justice: Jex’s death) I at least, relate to the Doctor’s anger and his struggle with the temptation to believe the myth of redemptive violence: that death and destruction can ultimately bring about justice.

In the past few days, a handful of police officers have been killed and the police officers and politicians want to lay the blame of their deaths on the Black Lives Matter and police accountability movements. Despite the fact that the murder of police officers are down and that the numbers of officers killed by gunfire so far (24) nowhere compares to the numbers of civilians killed by officers, police departments throughout the nation have argued that there is a “war on police officers.” The injustice and absurdity of such an argument angers me. The fact that 786 people can be killed by police officers and over 100 of those killed are unarmed (and one should question the remaining deaths of those considered to be “armed,” especially if the only record of the incident is the word of the police officer) renders the assertion that there is a “war on police officers” to be disingenuous. To be clear, I am not arguing that police officers are “bad” in fact I find the dichotomy of “good” cops and “bad” cops to be false. I think most cops are regular people-with the strengths and weaknesses that we all struggle with. While there are cases of rogue cops-the larger issue is institutional.  The American legal system-including law enforcement is built on notions that foster white supremacy and compliance to authoritarianism. As citizens we are supposed to accept the idea that somehow black and brown people rare inherently more violent than their white peers. We are to acquiescence to the notion that the state can and should be able to kill with impunity-no questions asks. We are encouraged to comply with the state’s demands and actions in the name of “national security” even if it involves the deaths of hundreds of American citizens, false imprisonment, and the erosion of civil liberties.

As a person of faith-it is disheartening to see how cycles of oppression and valence continue unabated. As a person of color it angers me that some of the issues that the civil rights movement were addressing are still a problem and that the state refuses to acknowledge the existence of said issues, let alone take steps towards a sustainable solution. It feels as if there is no hope that of long lasting change. And it is this despair that causes me to wonder, in the darkest recesses of my heart, if violence might, in fact, be the answer. If the state refuses to listen to relatively peaceful protests, then maybe we should fight back. If the lives of black and brown people (though it is important to acknowledge unarmed white people are also killed by police) seem to value so little to the state and to police officers, why the hell should I care if a police officer is randomly gunned down? While I would never engage in physical violence, I find myself thinking that perhaps in order for change to occur we need to start using the state’s tactics against it. In other words, I find myself very much empathizing with the eleventh doctor’s decision to put a gun to Jex’s head. Violence seems to offer a solution.

Amy Pond however, points out the futility and cruelty of such action. Not only should the Doctor avoid reducing himself to Jex’s level but she wants to know what happens after he kills Jex. Amy responds, “AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?” If the doctor kills Jex because of his past actions of injustice, then where will the killing end? Who else should be executed-those who make bombs and the guns that lead to war and destruction? And what about the ways in which we all in some measure benefit from oppression and injustice? If we point the gun at those we believe to be the cause of oppression, then at some point we will need to point the weapon at ourselves.

Later on in the episode the doctor recognizes the futility of violence. The Doctor tells Walter, a 17 year old who wants to kill Jex that doing so would only extend the cycle of violence:

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In the gospels, there are verses in which Jesus condemns violence. One such case occurs in Matthew 26:47-56, in which Jesus is being arrested. One of his followers cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave and Jesus responds, “put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew26:52). By the time Matthew was written, the Jewish temple had been destroyed and the armed revolt on the part of some Jewish people was brutally put down. The fact is that violence is rarely if ever redemptive and it often perpetrates more injustice and oppression.  Furthermore, what did cutting off the slave’s ear accomplish? It didn’t end the systematic exploitation and injustice Jesus often railed against. And as a slave of the high priest-how much power did the slave truly have? Likewise, what does the act of killing an individual cop accomplish? Does it end police brutality? Does it eradicate institutional racism?  Or does it simply expand the suffering that violence causes?

Intellectually and spiritually I understand this. As someone who yearns for a better world, I understand that violence-even in the name of justice or in response to injustice, often only creates more pain and suffering. Yet despite knowing that I find myself wanting to act like the person in Matthew who cut off the slave’s ear, or like the Doctor who put a gun to the head of the person who committed horrible atrocities. I have to continually listen to the prompting in my spirit and the yearning in my heart that tells me there is another way, a better way to respond to injustice.

Torchwood: They Keep Killing Suzie

SUZIE: What do you believe?
GWEN: It’s stupid, but I always sort of think, like, you know, white light and all that. And I think of my Gran. Like she’ll be there waiting for me. The smell of carbolic.
SUZIE: Your faith never left primary school.
GWEN: So what’s out there?
SUZIE: Nothing. Just nothing.

Death surrounds us. If we are lucky, those of us in the developed world who have enough economic stability and access to health care can perhaps keep death at bay for a while. However, eventually death comes for all living things-plants, animals, etc but humans have the additional capacity of being able to contemplate and reflect on what it means to die. As far as we know, animals don’t necessarily live with that kind of fear and anxiety, at least not to the same extent (this is not to say animals don’t grieve for the dead-there is evidence that some do) but it is humans that have an obsession with death that often leads to constantly reflecting on it in order to avoid it or to pretending that death does not exist or is some far off event in the future. On the occasions when death can’t be avoided we develop notions that can help lessen the pain little. One such notion is the idea of an afterlife. Ideas about the afterlife vary. But in popular Christian understanding there is a heaven and hell. Heaven is a comforting place, where we can be reunited without loved ones. Hell, is a place of eternal torment.

In They Keep Killing Suzie, Suzie points out that the faith Gwen has is still childish. It is the faith of someone hoping that something exists but not having truly grappled the meaning of death. The faith Gwen discuses is one where the afterlife becomes a comforting notion that simply exists to lessen the pain of grief. I personally don’t know if there is an afterlife or not, but I remember vividly as a teenager, how heaven was described in my conservative, Pentecostal church. Heaven was a literal place (reserved of course only for those who ascribed to our understanding of Christianity) where the pain and suffering of this life would be erased and forgotten. The idea of heaven did help many of us survive-at least for a while- a life filled with abuse, poverty, and illness. Heaven became the answer to what often felt like a meaningless existence and it served as the promise of justice in a world where injustice was rampant. The problem with the heavy emphasis on the idea of a literal heaven-is that it devalues life in the here and now and it cheapened the pain and suffering that goes on. Heaven becomes a pat answer for whenever people struggle with loss or question a God who would allow such pain and suffering to occur. While some find the whole idea of an afterlife problematic, I remain agnostic about its existence. What strikes me as problematic is the obsession with heaven to the determent of living here and now. The afterlife becomes a convenient excuse, for example, to not fight against injustice, because in heaven those who have borne the brunt of injustice will be vindicated while those partaking and benefiting from justice will be condemned to hell. The idea of an afterlife becomes an endorsement for the status quo: “Don’t worry about the injustice in this world, because God will take care of it in the next.”

I find such an impulse to obsessively focus on an afterlife understandable. Because if there isn’t an afterlife then what is there? While the torchwood gang is going through Suzie’s stuff, Tosh remarks:

TOSH: That’s all we are, in the end. A pile of boxes.

Such a notion is scary. The idea of nonexistence is frightening enough but to think that we might be forgotten or reduced to some material stuff fills one with anxiety. Suzie, after being bought to life by Gwen and the resurrection glove, makes several references to how the torchwood members have simply gone on with their lives.

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We fear being forgotten. And I understand why holding on to the notion of an afterlife is so attractive. It is bad enough when death comes at the end of a long, well lived life, but what happens when a baby is born still born? What does one make of a life that did not have a chance to truly begun? Or what about a life cut short during the prime of life, or just when the person was about to make a turn for the better? The idea of heaven, doesn’t totally eradicate the pain of the loss but provides hope that perhaps the lives of the still born baby, or the young child/adult, or the drug addict had meaning.

As someone who cares about justice-I want to believe that if justice is denied in this life-it will be fulfilled in the next. Thinking back on the deaths of all those unarmed men and women who have been killed, or who have died in police custody just within the past year by police officers, has me crying out for justice. I think of those who were mentally ill and because of poor treatment options and access to healthcare, and poor mental health training for police officers, are dead. Kristiana Coignard, Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose, Joseph Hutcheson, Christian Taylor, Tamir Rice, and many more have been brutally gunned down by a system where officers are trained to treat every encounter with a citizen as a potential threat. But I can’t allow a hope or a desire for an afterlife to allow me to forget about life here and about my responsibility for fighting for justice now.

GWEN: But if there’s nothing, what’s the point of it all?
SUZIE: This is. Driving through the dark. All this stupid, tiny stuff. We’re just animals howling in the night, because it’s better than silence. I used to think about Torchwood, all those aliens, coming to Earth, what the hell for? But it’s just instinct. They come here because there’s life, that’s all. Moths around a flame. Creatures clinging together in the cold.

The desire to make death less frightening by holding onto the idea of an afterlife can provide people with the comfort needed to work through their loss and grief, but it can also serve as a way to dismiss the necessary work that grieving entails. The idea of the afterlife can serve as an excuse for disregarding this life and for maintaining the status quo. Why work for justice now? Justice will be served in the next life. We want to hold onto an infantilizing faith, where our parent God, will suddenly make everything ok with little work on our part. Suzie’s view on life is a bit pessimistic, and many people of faith will want to reject that characterization of life as simply being one of instinct. But she also speaks to a core truth-that what matters is the here and now-the stupid little things that preoccupy our time. Our work for justice now, matters. We are all going to die, no amount of money or wishful thinking will change that. And yes, we might be forgotten in the future, reduced to a tombstone or to a pile of boxes. But what are we doing with our lives now? How are fighting to make the world a better place now? How do we, who are living, remember our loved ones who have passed before us? How do we give meaning to their lives, no matter how brief or trouble filled? We can’t simply hope that an afterlife exists to give meaning to our lives, we have to try and fashion meaning for our lives in the here and now.

Greeks Bearing Gifts…How Can I Live With It?

TOSH: I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s incredible.
MARY: It’s more than incredible. With this, you can read people’s minds. It levels the pitch between man and God.

In Greek Bearing Gifts. Tosh is given a pendant that allows her to read minds. She is able to hear the thoughts of almost every single person that she comes into contact with. (Captain Jack being the exception). For many people, such an ability would be amazing. We would be able to cut through all the bullshit and be able to tell immediately when someone is lying. There would be very little question about who our true friends are. And we could help prevent disasters. We could solve murders, foil terrorist attacks, pinpoint rapists, abusers, etc. Mary, rightfully, describes this ability as leveling the playing field between humanity and God. Omniscience-or being all knowing-is a characteristic that many attribute to a deity figure. And many take great comfort in the idea that there exists an all knowing deity figure whose knowledge is tied with his/her omnipotence. (being all powerful). Many people would enjoy having even one characteristic that is often associated with divinity. Yet, as Tosh quickly finds out the good is balanced-maybe even outweighed by the bad.

When Tosh goes to Torchwood, she is able to hear the thoughts of her co-workers. She learns about the fling that Owen and Gwen are having- which conforms that she will never have a relationship with Owen. She hears the sarcastic and mean spirited remarks her co-workers have towards her and she is exposed to the pain that Ianto tries so hard to keep hidden.

IANTO: (thoughts) Can’t imagine the time when this isn’t everything. Pain so constant, like my stomach’s full of rats. Feels like this is all I am now. There isn’t an inch of me that doesn’t hurt.
IANTO: I’m about to brew some of Jack’s industrial strength coffee. Would you like a cup?
TOSH: I’m, I’m fine. Thanks, Ianto.

The pendant quickly overwhelms her. The thoughts of others-her co-workers, strangers, immediately makes her distrustful of other people and causes her to despair over the amount of pain and suffering.

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The pendant also leaves her open to manipulation. One would think that being aware of other people’s thoughts would prohibit her from manipulation, but her trust in that ability to read minds prevents her from being more suspicious of Mary, who we find out was using her all along to try and get home to her home planet. And because the pendant is how her species communicates she is able to affectively manipulate her thoughts and only communicate to Tosh what she wants Tosh to hear

Mind reading, does of course has its benefits. She is able to rescue a mother and son, from being murdered by their ex and father. However, though she was able to help someone, the good didn’t even begin to compare with the negative consequences of mindreading. There was so much pain and suffering that she couldn’t stop-so many people hurting that she couldn’t help.

At the end of the episode after Mary, a murderer who had been banished from her home planet is killed by Jack, Tosh is left to ponder what she has learned from the pendant, which she destroys since she views it more as a curse rather than a gift.

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Mind reading, I believe is an ability that I am glad to do without. I have very little interest in being exposed to the inner thoughts of most humans. Though to be honest, there’s another “gift” “ability” characteristic, whatever you want to call it I wish I didn’t have. In the words of a character in another tv, show called The Wire, I have the unfortunate tendency to, “Givin’ a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” Meaning, I care too much. And this isn’t a struggle that is unique to myself. The people I look up too and admire-are those who gave a fuck even though they didn’t have too. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, etc People who were willing to challenge society or the government and who sustained substantial loses. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Edward Snowden has had his American passport revoked, and is living in Moscow away from family and friends. If he comes back to the United States he faces a lengthy jail sentence simply because he decided the American people deserved to know what the NSA was doing in the name of national security. Similarly Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA had his home raided by the FBI and his marriage and career destroyed, because he spoke up against the NSA illegal and immoral monitoring practices. The aforementioned, plus many many more people destroyed or lost their lives because they cared and dared to get involved. While I have serious doubts I will lead a movement or be forced into exile in Moscow, caring and advocating against the issues I am personally passionate about has led me to gain a snapshot of the ugliness of humanity.

After a period of engaging in social justice work, you get worn down from the ugliness and hatred in humanity. Things that should horrify become blasé. Of course the CIA tortured people and were given authority to do so from the highest authorities in the country. Of course the FBI frequently monitors Muslim communities and entraps poverty stricken Muslims in the so-called war on terror-even though left by themselves without federal meddling, said people wouldn’t have even thought about engaging in a terrorist attack let alone have the resources to begin planning. Of course the NSA circumvents the constitution. Of course our country is going to keep engaging in unwinnable wars, that’s how it’s been since 9/11. Police brutality? Not surprising at all.

And even worse, while one is passionately talking and advocating about the issues one cares about- one begins to realize that most people don’t care. Read the senate report on torture-shrugs, who has time for that? Anyway, most of the people tortured were affiliated with al Qaeda, so who cares? The government is spying on citizens, well if people have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear, right? Or people point out, why worry about things we can’t change? The government will do what it believes needs to be done and they will justify it In the name of national security.

Caring can lead one down a rabbit hole, where it is easy to get caught up in the darkness, violence, and corruption of humanity. But unlike the pendant, which Tosh destroyed, that really isn’t and shouldn’t be an option for those who care-even if we care too much. We don’t need less people who care about injustice we need more. But it can get overwhelming and depressing to have to encounter the worst of humanity again and again. I find myself with Tosh, asking, “After a while it gets to you. It changes how you see people. How can I live with it? “

Torchwood: Countrycide

In  Countrycide the Torchwood gang is confronted by what they believe are to be alien forces that essentially kidnap people and decimate their corpses tearing apart all flesh and muscle, leaving behind just a bloody clump of bones. For most of the episode we don’t even catch a glimpse of the monsters. Instead the information that we as an audience gleans, comes from the large number of victims that they leave behind. Torchwood, a group with plenty of experience investigating and witnessing horrible acts of violence are caught by surprise by the viciousness of the attacks.

JACK: What is it?
GWEN: There’s another body in there.
JACK: Same as the other.
GWEN: What did this, Jack? Cos whatever it is, it can’t be human. How far is this going to spread?
JACK: Stay focused.
GWEN: I should be at home having dinner with Rhys. What am I doing here with you? Don’t you ever get scared, Jack? Huh?

Gwen begins to allow panic to overwhelm her and she begins to question her involvement in Torchwood. Who or what could do such a horrendous thing to another living being? Why would any being want to mercilessly torture another living being? Taunting them and setting traps for their next unsuspecting victims.

Gwen isn’t the only one who is second guessing Torchwood’s mission and their place in it-Ianto-who is no longer simply in charge of cleaning up after the Torchwood crew at the station, takes issue not just with the dangers that they are facing, but also with the addiction to fear and adrenaline that seems to be a perquisite in being a member of torchwood:

IANTO: You’re used to this, aren’t you? That facial expression you all share when things get a bit out of control, like you enjoy it. Like you get a high from the danger.
TOSH: You want me to apologise for that?
IANTO: Don’t you ever wonder how long you can survive before you go mad, or get killed, or lose a loved one?
TOSH: It’s worth the risk to protect people.
IANTO: And who protects us?

Gwen questioned whether Jack ever felt fear, and Ianto is doing a similar thing to Tosh. He is trying to get Tosh to reflect on why she is willing to face such risks without even thinking. This episode brings up two important issues questioning the motives underlying brutality towards another living creature, and the motives underlying those who decide for whatever reason to try and end injustice.

Tosh’s answer to the second question references not only the high and adrenaline one feels in a dangerous mission but also the desire to protect other people even at the potential cost of one’s own life. The first question, Gwen’s, is answered later on in the episode when it is revealed that the monsters are in fact humans who cannibalize others. The question, especially for Gwen becomes, how could other human beings bring themselves to brutally kill other people without a second thought? She tries to get who she believes to be the leader of the cannibalistic family to explain but instead she is left with a sinking realization that sometimes there are no good and clear logical reasons for the inhumane things that humans do to one another:

GWEN: The whole village was involved?
EVAN: Every generation. Our tradition. Once a decade target those travelling through, those most likely to disappear.
GWEN: And butcher them. What sort of people are you that you wake up in the morning and think, this is what I’m going to do? Why’d you do it? Come on. Make me understand.
EVAN: Why do you care?
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In this episode of Torchwood the motives of those who perform unimaginable evil on others and the motives of those determined to stop them are vastly different. The cannibals get a kick out of brutally killing others and making them suffer before eating them, and Torchwood stops them to prevent others from being brutally murdered. Here it is clear to tell who is good and who is evil. But what happens when those who believe or claim to be acting on behalf of a greater good, cause other human beings to suffer? What happens when it is those who claim to be taking the moral high ground who subject others to indescribable anguish all in the name of justice and security?

For example, it is pretty clear that ISIS and other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda have no qualms about exploiting and torturing others. In fact, they purposely capitalize on the suffering of other people in order to make gains. Only those sympathetic to their cause are unwilling or uninterested in truly acknowledging the amount of pain and suffering that their actions cause. But what if instead of focusing on the clear “bad” guys, we focus on say, the United States government, which has clearly stated numerous times its opposition to terrorism. But who in the name of fighting against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS, groups that no doubt need to be stopped, the government treats the lives of others- american and non american  as useless. I am thinking specifically about the number of civilians killed due to “bad” intelligence, the lives crushed based on corruption and incompetency  in the highest levels of governments, the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which led to the torture of members of al Qaeda, but also to people who had no ties to al Qaeda at all, but had a similar name to a wanted terrorist. It is difficult enough to imagine one person intentionally harming another person, but it is horrifying to realize the harm that institutions can wreck on thousands of lives, especially an institution with as much power as the United States government. I find myself asking, along with Gwen, “who could do this? who could nonchalantly order the deaths of children half way across the world? Who could torture another individual, even when said torture provides no useful intelligence that could be used to prevent terrorist attacks?”

In Countrycide it is clear who the heroes and villains are, but in real world situations the dividing lines aren’t so clear. In Countrycide the cannibals basically admit that they kill for fun, but in the real world many acts of cruelty are disguised under the veneer of justice and security. The lines between good and bad become indistinguishable. How can we say, with a clear conscious that the United States government is the “good guy” while also endorsing torture?

Small Worlds

As I delve deeper and deeper into trying to understand the roots of injustice and to uncover various avenues to try and promote social justice, I am left pondering if in order for progress to be made, whether some people need to die? In order for the wickedness and tragedy of a situation to become evident, do lives need to be extinguished so that the rest of humanity can finally get the message that if we don’t care and if we don’t act, people, including children, will be killed?

In Small Worlds, the Torchwood team is confronted with fairies who take pleasure in killing and torturing others. Gwen, at the beginning of the episode scoffs at the notion of fairies, to Jack’s annoyance.

GWEN: Anyone could have made this circle.
JACK: Why do you keep doubting me? I spell out the dangers, you keep looking for explanations.
GWEN: That’s what police work’s about.
JACK: This isn’t police work.
GWEN: All right then, science.
JACK: It’s not science.
GWEN: I know. You told me. It’s that corner of the eye stuff.

While Gwen does begin to sense that she and the others are being watched as they walk about n the forest, it isn’t until people begin to die and until her very home and sense of safety is threatened that she begins to take seriously the danger that these magical beings pose.

GWEN: In the whole of my working life I have never had to bring the bad times home with me. I have never had to feel threatened in my own home. But not anymore, because this means these creatures can invade my life whenever they feel like it and I am scared, Jack. What chance did Estelle have? What chance do any of us have?

In a similar way, when it comes to speaking out against injustice, many react as Gwen first did. They mock those who are suffering from injustice, assigning blame to the victims while ignoring or protecting societal norms that aid in the subjection of others. When women are beaten or raped, the response is “well they deserved it for not being more careful, for dressing like sluts.” Instances of brazen racism are denied. The poor are vilified and accused of being lazy. And those who die and suffer outside of our western reference? Well to be blunt, their lives don’t seem to matter. People don’t care.

And why should they? It is easier to live in a world where we can say pretend everything is ok and mock those who talk out against evil. In the Torchwood universe, it was easier for Gwen to mock the existence of fairies or for Estelle, to ignore the evil that lurks in them, than it was to believe that they could have such disregard for the lives of other living beings. Until of course, a moment arrives where ignoring or deluding oneself is no longer possible. And in many cases, humanity has a tendency to wait until a major catastrophe occurs to awaken from its stupor. And even then, we need to have a personal connection for us to really feel something. For instance, how many children are suffering in the Middle East as a result of our foreign policy? How many children are starving because we endorse trade agreements that make it harder for their parents to make a living or we give companies incentives to create sweatshops in third world countries? And we don’t notice until a particularly heart wrenching story catches our attention. It’s as if, as a society we require people to die in order for us to pay attention, for us to care.

In the episode, the fairies demand a little girl in exchange for sparing the world:

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I often wonder, if as a society we play a similar game or demand a similar sacrifice. The fairies demand their “Chosen One.” In some ways, society demands that others pay the price for our comfort and for our empathy. Our economic system is based on the exploitation of other people. Our empathy is tied to suffering that is able to awaken us from the haze of modern consumerism. It’s as if we demand the deaths of other people in order to keep our economic system running or in order to get us to care just long enough to maybe talk about doing something before the next new catastrophe catches our attention. But what is the alternative? Trying to keep track of all the various instances of injustice can be exhausting and mentally unhealthily. Exploitation and apathy are not just a part of the American way of life-but are global realities.

JASMINE: A dead world, is that what you want?
JACK: What good is that to you? There will be no more Chosen Ones.
JASMINE + VOICE: They’ll find us, back in time.
JACK: Take her.
GWEN: Jack, no.
JACK: You asked me what chance we have against them. For the sake of the world, this is our only chance.

As a society, we demand that other “less important lives” be expended in order for us to live comfortably or alternatively we wait until we hear horrific stories of death before we intervene, usually for a short amount of time.

Torchwood: Cyberwoman

We are made in the image of God. While I am not a literalist and do not believe that the creation stories in genesis detail the origin of life, I believe that the narratives serve to remind us that each individual person is cared for and loved by God. Being made in the image of God means that we are loved beyond our wildest imagination and that we also have a worth that goes beyond whatever arbitrary characteristics that society deems to be the epitome of human perfection. It doesn’t matter if you have blonde hair and blue eyes, or dark skin, hair, and eyes. It doesn’t matter if your face is symmetrical or if you think that your face should be hidden under a plastic bag. God loves you. And those who claim to follow God are called to advocate for the least of these and for the despised in society. We are called to help bring bout the kingdom of God-a kingdom defined by compassion and justice.

Most people, when reading over the above paragraph will nod their heads in agreement. “Of course we should advocate for love and justice. Of course every person is made in the image of God.” Such sentiments are nice when spoken out loud or written in a blog post that one can read and walk away from. But in the real world such sentiments are difficult. What does it mean to say that everyone is made in the image of God? It means that the cute, minute old newborn is made in God’s image, that she has value and that she is cherished. But it also means that those whom we consider to be monsters, who have discarded their humanity are also loved by God. Even though their horrendous actions and words make seeing them in the image of God difficult, that does not change the fact that despite their actions they are still loved by God. Imagine a person or a group of people who have committed horrible atrocities and yet pause to think that they too are loved by God. That seems-wrong. Can one hold onto the notion that yeah God loves them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be stopped? It is tempting to say, “God loves them, but I don’t.” But even if one were to embrace whole heartedly that God’s love is for all-how does one live that out in the real world? Does it mean that those who are committing atrocious actions get a free pass and that they shouldn’t be stopped? Of course not. But talking about being made in the image of God and about God’s encompassing love can become clichéd when it is done without acknowledgement of what is going on around us.

In Cyberwoman we are introduced to Lisa, a young 25 year old woman who had worked at Torchwood London during the battle of Canary Wharf. During that battle, the cybermen began to convert the members of Torchwood London into cybermen. Towards the end of the battle, instead of simply transplanting brains they began to upgrade bodies. Lisa’s conversion was not finished, and she was left as a human-cyberman hybrid (though she looks more like an interesting cross between a BDSM mistress and a Doctor Who cosplayer). When we first meet her at the beginning of the episode, not only is it surprising that she still looks human, but she is able to express human emotion. It becomes clear very early on, that she and Ianto are in love. It also seems as if the process of turning her human will be fairly straight forward since she looks human, feels emotion, and is able to survive being disconnected from a cybermen conversion unit that Ianto had been using as her life support system.

LISA: Why aren’t I connected?
IANTO: You’re alive. He kept you alive.
LISA: Thank you.
TANIZAKI: This is only the start.
(A monitor beeps. Ianto calls up the image of the four walking across the Plass towards Torchwood.)
IANTO: We’ve got to move. Quickly!
LISA: I’ll walk.
IANTO: You’ve only just woken up. You can’t.
LISA: I want to walk. Please.
IANTO: Help her downstairs. I’ll clear up here.
LISA: I’m alive!

This being Torchwood, things start going badly fairly quickly. While Ianto is attempting to make things at the station look normal, as the other Torchwood members unexpectedly return to the station, Lisa kills Dr. Tanizaki, who was supposed aid in converting her back into full functioning human. Lisa had attempted to convert him and failed. Things go from bad to worse when Owen and Gwen start looking for the source that is draining the station’s power. Owen is knocked out and Lisa immediately attempts to upgrade Gwen. Luckily Captain Jack saves Gwen but he is unable to kill Lisa because Ianto prevents him from shooting her. It immediately becomes apparent that Jack and Ianto are at odds with how to deal with the situation. Jack has only seen Lisa as a cyberwoman, a dangerous creation that has lost her humanity. Ianto, however, having kept her hidden for months, has seen glimpses of her humanity and has fallen in love with her. Jack only sees the monster and Ianto only sees his lover.

IANTO: My loyalty’s to her. She worked for Torchwood. She was caught up in battle. I owe it to Lisa, we owe it to her, to find a cure.
JACK: Ianto, you have to believe me, there is no cure. There never will be. Those who are converted stay that way. Your girlfriend will not be the exception.
IANTO: You can’t know that for sure.
JACK: Look, you need to know what’s happening here. Because this is where these things start. Small decisions that become mass slaughter. These creatures regain a foothold by exploiting human weakness. Then they take a base, rebuild their forces, and before you know it, the Cyber race is spreading out across the universe, erasing worlds, assimilating populations, all because of the tiny beginnings here. We need to stop her together.

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Captain Jack, clearly has a point. She is dangerous and capable of killing vast amounts of people. And if she ever successfully manages to figure out how to complete her upgrade or convert others, the whole planet could be in danger. Yet, as Ianto points out, the conversion is not complete. As a result, there is a possibility that she could be redeemed. She could become fully human again.

Even when Ianto tries to talk to her and to make contact with what is left of her humanity and he is rebuffed, he refuses to give up on her.

LISA: The upgrade is incomplete.
IANTO: You’re still human.
LISA: I am disgusting. I have. I am wrong.
IANTO: We can help you.
LISA: I must start again. Upgrade properly.
IANTO: For God’s sake, have you heard yourself? Lisa, please. I brought you here to heal you, so we could be together.
LISA: Together. Yes. Transplant my brain into your body. The two of us together, fused. We’ll be one complete person. Isn’t that what love is?
IANTO: No.
LISA: Then we are not compatible.

After Captain Jack attempts to kill her, by having Torchwood’s pterodactyl attack her (only in the Torchwood and doctor who universe would that sentence make sense), Ianto accuses Jack of being heartless:

IANTO: You could have saved her. You’re worse than anything locked up down there. One day, I’ll have the chance to save you, and I’ll watch you suffer and die.
JACK: It was the only thing that would stop her!

Lisa survives the pterodactyl attack, though she has taken over the body of an innocent woman who had simply been stuck with the task of delivering pizza to the station. Bits of her humanity show through-even though it is mixed with the horror that she killed another person without a second thought.

ANNIE/LISA: You fought so hard for me, I had to hold on for you, so I took this body and transplanted the brain.
IANTO: You’re not Lisa.
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IANTO: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Lisa.
ANNIE/LISA: We can be upgraded together.

Lisa is finally killed when the rest of the Torchwood gang opens fire on her. Captain Jack’s actions are understandable-hell, they were probably necessary to stop Lisa from wrecking more death and destruction. Yet, watching the episode, I couldn’t help but imagine God has reacting more like Ianto (without threatening to allow Jack to suffer and die) then Jack. As someone who rejects notions of hell and eternal punishment, I am left with a God who unabashedly loves everyone. That idea is fine when I think about all the people I love-but it comes difficult when I think about those I consider to be monsters. The Islamic State for instance. I don’t think I can describe the disgust I feel towards them as they continue to massacre men, women, and children in the name of God. They point out the atrocities of American foreign policy yet they continue to kill and enslave people. To me, they are monsters. And to be honest I have to admit I wouldn’t mind if every single adult member of the organization was killed. They need to be stopped. Yet at the same time-if I believe God loves everyone-it means everyone. Some of the recruits that have gotten the most media attention have been young men and women-teenagers who for whatever reason have decided that they want to back a group that regularly ad gleefully beheads people just to make a point. The Islamic State is comprised of people that have families and people who love them yet they regularly kill others, leaving their victims’ family members devastated and heart broken.

The Islamic State needs to be stopped. But the annoying thing about God is that for God redemption is always possible and God’s love is limitless. While I want the Islamic State and all who comprise it to be destroyed, God frequently reminds me that they are God’s children too. Made in God’s image. I don’t have any solutions-I don’t know how they should be stopped. I don’t have any answers so I can’t dictate what those in authority should do. But what I do know is that as horrific as their actions are, God loves them. And that makes me uncomfortable and it also challenges me. It is easy to talk about God’s love as a theoretical idea, it’s much harder to make it concrete.

Torchwood: Ghost Machine

TOSH: Transducers convert energy from one form into another. They’re in headphones. They convert electrical signals into sound, and they’re in this device too, converting quantum energy and amplifying it.
GWEN: Into ghosts.
JACK: Of course. It’s emotion. Human emotion is energy. You can’t always see it, or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well, there was. There always is.
GWEN: A ghost.

As far as I know quantum transducers are a thing of fiction, though who knows what the American military is secretly working on…(NSA I swear, I know NOTHING! Haha). And to be honest when it comes to ghost, I am a skeptic. I have never personally encountered a ghost, and most of the stories I have heard have been sketchy and seem to be based on tropes, rather than on any actual experience. Yet despite my skepticism, I find the notion of ghosts to be fascinating. They are often used to provide a link to some past person or event-a past that most would often rather forget. They often serve as a reminder of pain and suffering. A consumerist society-based on buying and discarding has very little use for the past-especially for a past that is unpleasant and painful. New things that are representative of the future are often touted as a panacea for what aids the loneliness and despair that many individuals feel. But ghosts interrupt that narrative and provide a counter narrative that hints at how the past can never simply be thrown away and discarded. They are an embodiments of the past that serve to haunt those that would rather forget. Yet conversely, some become so obsessed with the past, that the present holds very little meaning. Some ghost stories for instance, focus on revenge and somehow righting some past wrong.

For torchwood, ghosts are not to be thought of as simply a nonphysical presence comprised solely of those who have died-instead they are, as Jack describes them, echoes of a moment.

In the beginning of the episode, the transducer transports Gwen to the very same train station-decades earlier. Where she sees a little, lost boy, whose fear and confusion is palpable. But she not only sees the little boy, but she is experiencing the very same emotions-fear, confusion, and helplessness. And she is unable to help him. The torchwood team eventually track down the little boy-who has now become an old man and he shares his story with Gwen-a story that still impacts him decades later:

TOM: We were taken to the countryside from here. My mother packed me a suitcase, big sister wrote my name on a card. They put me on a train at Paddington. Kept saying I had to go, had to be a good boy. Telling me not to cry, and the pair of them were crying their eyes out. That was the last I saw of them, though I didn’t know that then of course, waving goodbye.
GWEN: How old were you?
TOM: Eight.
GWEN: You must have been very, very frightened.
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The one moment that Gwen was privy too, was part of a larger tale of war, death, suffering, and new beginnings. The very modern station that she and the torchwood team was running through at the beginning of the episode-was the setting of a tragic story, a story in which war separated families-some forever. The stories of World War II have been told so often that the war and all that happened in it seem to be regulated to a time long ago. Yeah Hitler was evil, the Japanese were evil, lots of people were killed, but the “good” people won, the end. Yet Gwen was able to go beyond that bare bones narrative for a brief few seconds and experience the fear and confusion of one lost little boy-a boy who turned into a man yet who was able to vividly recount his experiences. But for Gwen, as disconcerting as this experience was-she was able to have some form of closure. The lost little boy made himself a new home and a new life. Gwen is able, perhaps, to learn from her brush with the past, but does not become obsessed over it. Owen’s experience with the transducer is vastly different.

Owen witnesses a heart rendering scene where a young woman is cornered by a young man. Her fear is palpable as Owen hears the young man repeatedly calling out to her: Lizzie! The young man, who we soon find out is named Ed is manipulative and dangerous. Yet Owen can do nothing but watch in horror as the scene unfolds before him:

LIZZIE: You’re a bad one, Ed Morgan. The girls said not to go with you, and they were right.
EDDIE: Am I bad? Am I a bad boy? You’re a big girl now, Lizzie. You can make your own decisions. That’s why I like you. You’re not like the others. You don’t follow the herd. You’re smart. Don’t you like it that someone can see how smart you are, hmm? I can see you, Lizzie, the way you really are.
(Eddie kisses Lizzie. She tries to break free and he slaps her, then gets out a flick knife.)
EDDIE: I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t.
LIZZIE: I, I told my mum I’d be home by nine.
EDDIE: Shush.
LIZZIE: Please! Oh, God, someone help me. Help me. Help me!
When the vision ends, Owen is in shock.
GWEN: Owen? Owen, are you all right?
OWEN: She, she was so scared. I couldn’t, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t help her.
The torchwood team discovers that Lizzie had been raped and murdered and that no one had been charged in her death. Owen, becomes obsessed with providing some sort of justice-even though-as Jack points out-there is no way for the police to become involved-not when alien technology is involved. For Owen, the past gnaws at him with an intensity that prevents him from sleeping. He wants some sort of justice. And yes, I am a firm believer that justice is necessary-that wrongs from the past cannot and should not be ignored and discarded. But the thing about justice is that it does nothing to change the past. And since institutional forms of justice are closed off to Owen since he can’t very well go into a police station with the transducer in hand, he becomes fixated with revenge. Justice, at least in theory, is about addressing past wrongs, (without believing that the past can somehow be made ‘alright’ by future action), taking measures to prevent it from happening again, and seeking to remember the past without becoming fanatical about it or using the past as an excuse to commit overt wrongs. Jack, wants him to forget about what he witnessed and experienced and move on, but he is unable. The only recourse he feels he has access too is revenge. The problem with revenge is that it obsesses over the past. Living in the present becomes impossible, and unlike justice, revenge suffers under the illusion that if only one could make the party responsible for causing injustice suffer then somehow what happened in the past becomes all right.

Yet it’s not only the past that can hold us hostage. Towards the end of the episode it is discovered that the transducer can also present a version of the future-Jack is careful to point out that the vision may not happen-it is only showing one of many possible futures. Yet the transducer shows Gwen a vision of her covered in blood, in shock, apologetic that she is unable to save someone. She becomes determined to not let that happen. This is another echo of a moment-one from the future that may or may not happen. Yet the pull is just as strong as if it had happened in the past-if not more so because once something occurs in the past-it is unalterable. Lizzy was killed in 1963 and no matter how unjust her death was-she is still going to be dead-whether Owen exacts his revenge or not. But the future is malleable in a way that the past is not. As a result Gwen becomes desperate in preventing her vision from coming true. The torchwood gang figure out the sequence of what they think might happen-that Ed would kill another character-Bernie, but they manage to stop Ed in time. There is a tense moment where Owen seems as if he will kill Ed but he doesn’t and he hands Gwen the knife. And Gwen is so happy that the vision seems to have been thwarted. Yet Ed ends up killing himself by walking into the knife. The vision ended up occurring, just not in the manner that she nor anyone else had accepted. And Gwen is understandably devastated by the turn of events and she feels guilty-despite any reassurances from Jack.

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One interpretation of this episode is fatalistic-one could say-well since the past is unchangeable any injustices done should be forgotten-especially if there is little chance of legal redress. And one could view the future as a set course. But to make such an interpretation is easy because it requires little self-reflection or action. A more fruitful interpretation is one that requires critical self-reflection. The ghosts of the past and future, moments that are gone and moments yet to come can become prisons, if we obsesses over them. Holding onto a painful past and agonizing over the future, causes anguish and suffering without contributing anything positive. Yet at the same time-one cannot-should not ignore the past. One shouldn’t try to suppress the memory of horrible actions or events. For instance, while the rest of the world might have forgotten the Rwandan genocide-the reality is that the memory of the genocide lives on in the Congo-as it may have helped fuel some of the many problems going on, it may not have caused them-but it most likely did not help. Not to mention that the survivors of the genocide are haunted by the slaughter that they witnessed. The past impacts the present and future. Ignoring situations such as what occurred in Rwanda is not the solution-intentional acts of remembrance that dos not just give lip service to the atrocities but seeks to ensure that I does not happen again is what is needed. A violent reaction-in which the perpetrators or those who belong to the same ethnic group as the perpetrators would be slaughtered in turn, is also an inadequate response-it would be an attempt to ‘right” what occurred in the past-yet in reality it simply continues the cycle of pain and suffering and it perpetrates injustice.

Conversely, fearing the future can also be harmful. Now, to be fair, if one knows that one has the possibility of stopping something bad from occurring, one has the obligation to do it. Gwen saw that someone was going to die-as a result she had to do something. She couldn’t just sit back and think- “well maybe someone will die, or maybe not.” Yet despite her best actions, someone ended up dead. She wanted to avoid creating another painful ghost-or echo of a moment. Yet she couldn’t-despite her best intentions. While of course, we should do everything in our power to prevent pain and suffering and injustice from occurring, the fact is pain and suffering will occur. Violence will be perpetrated. The question becomes-how do you balance that knowledge without resulting to fatalism? How do we continue to do all we can to prevent injustice-while recognizing that there will be times where we will fail? How do we prevent ourselves from living in fear of the future? How do we allow the ‘ghosts’ that surround us serve as reminders to propel us to engage in justice work without consuming us or causing us to fall into despair?